Finding Oil: The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920

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1 Finding Oil The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920 Copyrighted Material Brian Frehner Contents List of Illustrations viii Acknowledgments xi Introduction 1 Part 1. Local Knowledge 1 Vernacular Authority in the Oil Field 21 2 Collaborative Authority: Nineteenth-Century Foundations of Petroleum Geology 45 Part 2. Contested Knowledge 3 Shared Authority: Practical Oil Men and Professional Geologists 81 4 Institutional Authority: Field Work, Universities, and Surveys 103 Part 3. Appropriated Knowledge 5 Geology Organized: Henry L. Dohertys Technological System 143 Conclusion 173 Notes 179 Bibliography 207 Index 225 Buy the book

2 Finding Oil The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920 Copyrighted Material Brian Frehner Introduction Shortly after walking over the dry west Texas plains, Jett Rink knelt on the ground while squeezing handfuls of oil-soaked dirt through his fingers and gazed in amazement at the black crude slowly bubbling to the surface. Later, Rink stood atop a cable tool drilling rig when a loud noise caught his attention. The black crude that had merely bubbled to the surface began to emit an awesome roar as it erupted from the hole Rink punctured in the earth. He stepped back to behold the spectacle he had created, as oil spewed from the earth and rained down on him. He held both hands in the air as if to thank Mother Earth for her beneficence, and jumped up and down to celebrate his good fortune. The image of a gusher is a powerful symbol in the history of the American Southwest. Dramatized by James Dean in the movie ver sion of Edna Ferbers novel Giant, this scene played out repeatedly throughout the early twentieth century in the history of oil-rich states such as Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and California. Captivating and dramatic, a gusher represented a visual image of natures bounty spew ing forth uncontrolled and seemingly uncontrollable. The image was powerful but far from simplistic: it held different meanings for the prospectors who found gushers as the oil industry grew and matured. For example, an oil prospector like Jett Rink might see a gusher as a symbol of great wealth, a fortune in the making, while to another 1 Buy the book

3 Finding Oil The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920 Copyrighted Material Brian Frehner prospector the gusher symbolized profligate waste and technological incompetence. Oil prospectors expressed these different views about oil over time. However they conceived of gushers, all prospectors strove to translate the geological forces governing oil into other forms of power economic, intellectual, and cultural within this emerg ing industry. This book recognizes the diversity of their views but shows that important similarities existed in the kinds of knowledge cultivated by the most successful prospectors. The central argument of this book is that oil prospectors struggled for cultural, intellectual, and professional authority over both nature and their peers from 1859 to 1920. Throughout the oil industrys early history, multiple people from varied class, educational, and professional backgrounds vied for the authority to determine where oil resided. Despite the towering presence of a figure like John D. Rockefeller as the quintessential oil man, prospectors made up a diverse lot who saw themselves, their interests, and their relationships with nature in different ways primarily through their work. Oil men established relationships with nature through their work in order to harness geo logical forces and unleash oil in a rushing flow, but they encountered and understood geological forces differently. At the center of the rela tionships they formed with nature lay a struggle for power, position, and prestige within the oil industry and, for some, within the scientific community. Certainly economic gain motivated many prospectors, but the knowledge they cultivated and articulated about oil and its character bestowed upon them intellectual and cultural power too. Finding (and failing to find) oil through physical and intellectual work taught prospectors knowledge that they built upon as the industry evolved, but this process often unfolded irrationally and with intense conflicts among people who disagreed about how and where to find oil. The idea that people within the oil industry engaged in a quest for power hardly seems novel given oils central importance throughout the twentieth century, but this book complicates that story by argu ing that the prize prospectors sought constituted power that did not 2 introduction Buy the book

4 Finding Oil The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920 Copyrighted Material Brian Frehner always equate to financial gain. Clearly discoverers of large oil deposits potentially stood to amass fortunes, and this prospect alone motivated many to explore for subterranean riches. Explaining the behavior of all prospectors on the basis of financial gain alone, however, illuminates their motivations no more clearly than does the argument that fish swim because they live in the water. Indeed, one very popular book on the history of the oil industry argues that oil has meant mastery and it was this quest for mastery throughout the twentieth century that constituted an epic quest for oil, money, and power.1 Indeed, the men who formulated the knowledge for locating oil (and they were mostly men) successfully applied their learning to uncover vast stores of oil, and they profoundly and radically changed the world through their discoveries in the United States. Their story is signifi cant because the power and mastery they wielded took many forms that prevented prospectors from achieving a consensus in their sup posed mastery over the geology that housed oil. This book explains that some prospectors saw power as the work that they expended exploring and drilling into landscapes. Yet others saw power more in terms of an intellectual activity from which they derived geological theories from field work, using those theories to explain how and where oil accumulated. In the end finding oil required both physi cal labor and intellectual theorizing; prospectors possessed different cultural orientations toward their work and toward nature that they could not always reconcile. With this story I hope to join an emerging conversation among scholars who see environmental history as a field in which nature and culture coexist in a tangled dialectic rather than as discrete categories of analysis. More environmental historians recently have taken a cul tural turn by telling stories of hybrid landscapes that blur the lines between a supposedly pure and pristine nature and manifestations of human culture.2 Americans related to, thought about, and interacted with nature as laborers, scientists, and industrialists, to name only a few occupations that gave rise to complex and often competing dis- introduction 3 Buy the book

5 Finding Oil The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920 Copyrighted Material Brian Frehner courses about the worlds they inhabited.3 Hybrid landscapes show that the intersections between culture and nature changed depend ing upon the times and places in which they occurred. Some of the literature on this topic dispenses with easy categorizations of social or economic behavior by showing that production and consumption of nature reflected historically specific contexts and often constituted a paradox. The very terms production and consumption take on different meanings depending on when and where they occurred, and these differences thus complicate the social and economic activities that shaped cultural experiences in nature. For example, miners who dug into mountainsides produced gold but simultaneously consumed nature by picking wild berries or eating canned and packaged food to feed themselves.4 Tourists who culturally consumed nature inside national parks simultaneously produced revenue for surrounding communities through their wilderness encounters. This monograph will present numerous oil producers whose highly personal (if not intimate) encounters with landscapes reveal cultural conceptions of nature that grew from relationships they fashioned through their intellects and physical labor. What is at stake for the people in all of these histories is the power to define what constitutes nature.5 At the center of my analysis is the idea that the geological processes that created and trapped oil beneath the ground constituted particular environmental contexts that challenged prospectors to encounter nature both physically and intellectually in order to locate, extract, and control the resource they sought. Apart from a gushers symbolic power, an uncontrolled oil well illustrated in dramatic, visual form the fugitive qualities of this natural resource, physical attributes that influenced how people searched for, confronted, and attempted to control oil. Not all wells gushed, but even those that seeped or flowed revealed oil geology and suggested technology for locating and extract ing the elusive viscous resource. Other natural resources such as coal, timber, water, and native grasses each possessed unique qualities that shaped how people attempted to appropriate and eventually conserve 4 introduction Buy the book

6 Finding Oil The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920 Copyrighted Material Brian Frehner 1. Iconic image of a gushing oil well. Celebrated and cherished by some, quickly suppressed by others. This is the Lakeview No. 2 gusher in Kern County, California, May 20, 1914. Courtesy of United States Geological Survey. Buy the book

7 Finding Oil The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920 Copyrighted Material Brian Frehner them. Unlike forests, rivers, and grasslands, however, the great bulk of oil reserves lay hidden from human view by complex and varied geological formations. This book is about how people attempted to access that subterranean world and the ideas they conceived of where oil lay, ideas that sometimes led them to oil but often led them into disagreements and conflicts with one another. The physical qualities of oil and the varied geological conditions in which it resided thus shaped human efforts to appropriate the resource. Just as continental sheets of ice and raging forest fires influenced humans responses to them, oils physical properties conditioned humans responses to it.6 Prospectors debated oil and its geology because the work they performed mediated their relationships with nature in highly indi vidualistic ways. Battles waged over oil-finding technique reflected a broader debate over prospectors relationships to nature through their labor. Work is one of the primary means for human beings to know nature.7 Few humans throughout time and across the globe have escaped the need to perform work for food, clothing, or shel ter. Whether hunting for food, tilling the soil, or prospecting for oil, people who labor simultaneously alter the natural world and learn about nature through the physical energy they exert. What they know they learn through their bodies, which serve as conduits that absorb natures dictates to shiver, sweat, gaze, peer, or listen in order to track a moose, plough a field, or drill a hole into the earth. We understand our relationship to nature when we understand its relationship to the work our bodies perform. People also make sense of their surround ings by filtering their experiences through cultural lenses such as lan guage and epistemological orientations that process and order their relationships to nature, connections constantly in flux as new sensory inputs require their refashioning.8 The work people perform can alter environments, but this labor also functions as the medium through which the environment can change people. Like all relationships, people and environment interact continually, and each participates in an ongoing dialogue in which one affects the other. 6 introduction Buy the book

8 Finding Oil The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920 Copyrighted Material Brian Frehner Oil prospectors used their bodies and minds to engage with nature while conducting field work. Some prospectors found oil by relying on their eyes, ears, feet, and hands while traversing landscapes. Others saw field work as an opportunity to formulate philosophical specula tions about geological principles useful for finding oil and answering larger questions about a landscapes form, age, and relationship to surrounding topography. The experience of gathering local knowledge in these ways could lead to oil, but it also imparted an environmental ethic or sense of place that varied depending upon when and where prospecting took place. Because individual prospectors employed varying degrees and combinations of physical and intellectual work, their experiences in nature ranged the gamut from an appreciation for natures aesthetic beauty to a supposedly detached objectivity that facilitated geological theorizing. The different kinds of knowledge prospectors generated from their work gave rise to intense debates over what constituted reliable and trustworthy geological information. I intend throughout this study to complicate simple polarities between objective and subjective knowledge in order to highlight how the science of petroleum geology resulted from an ongoing collective process in which many individuals participated.9 Relationships that prospectors formed with nature could at times be highly individualistic or even eccentric, presenting oppor tunities for some to contest, disprove, or revise anothers theories for locating oil. Understanding that knowledge coalesced through these negotiations illuminates the complicated matrix between nature and different constituencies, but there is also a moral dimension to the relationships prospectors fashioned with nature and the knowledge they produced.10 People generate knowledge because of the need to carry out a practical activity. When knowledge achieves this goal, it embodies a collective good and possesses a moral component because nonexperts must rely upon others and trust in others observations of nature in order to make decisions that would affect their lives. Thus knowledge has natural and social components.11 Many people prac introduction 7 Buy the book

9 Finding Oil The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920 Copyrighted Material Brian Frehner ticed the practical task of searching for oil, and in order to find oil, they had to generate knowledge that warranted a strong consensus to attract investors interest or to justify the time and expenditure of drilling a hole. The knowledge generated for determining where to drill that hole grew out of peoples willingness to trust the knowledge prospectors generated for locating the best possible site. This book explores the process of how people identified trustwor thy agents but more importantly how those agents developed and demonstrated their trustworthiness as professional geologists and accrued authority over a body of knowledge that expanded over the timeframe of this study and continues to grow in the present. As consumers of oil living in the world today, each of us must trust sci entific experts working for oil companies who proclaim the safety of their production methods or that the costs involved in finding oil justify prices we pay at the pump. Geologists still play a central role in finding oil, but this book argues that they fought long and hard to win the publics trust and the confidence of investors and executives within the oil industry. Casting knowledge as a highly contested by-product of different practitioners work in nature during the timeframe 1860 to 1920 illu minates how professional scientists and engineers only gradually imposed their practices on the oil industry.12 To gain acceptance, geologists and engineers borrowed and built upon knowledge gen erated by lay practitioners whose physical and experiential encounters revealed valuable information about geology in local contexts. Some petroleum geologists recognized they could enhance their authority by extrapolating theoretical abstractions from local knowledge and applying these local practices universally in order to commodify oil in other locales. Lay practitioners, on the other hand, facilitated the cultural and bureaucratic enshrinement of objective and scientific knowledge in the oil industry as much as professional scientists but most often at the local level. Lay practitioners did not disappear at the time this study ends, but their role in finding oil had grown sig 8 introduction Buy the book

10 Finding Oil The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920 Copyrighted Material Brian Frehner nificantly more marginal as petroleum geologists staked their claim to universal knowledge and expertise. Prospectors never fitted easily or neatly into categories because their methods often overlapped, but two of the most prominent types to emerge in the oil industry were the practical oil man and the profes sional geologist. Jett Rink provides one example of a practical man because he prospected alone and had not received formal geological training. Conversely, geologists typically educated themselves at uni versities, where they formally studied geological principles, but they also supplemented this training with experience working in the field or for an oil company. Although I use the above labels throughout this study, I realize the appellations potentially prove troublesome because they overstate the differences between the two groups and obscure similarities. Prospec tors looked for oil with a range of approaches, but those who found oil most often employed very similar forms of knowledge. Thus the labels function as ideal types, with each type potentially generating knowledge that succeeded or failed to yield oil. Practical oil men functioned as craftspeople and technicians who gathered knowledge to perform the material task of finding oil and selling it to the high est bidder. The knowledge they generated possessed a vernacular character and reflected ways of knowing the natural world mostly situated in the physical labor they performed. Geologists also wanted to find oil and cultivated local knowledge, but they aspired simulta neously to formulate innovative theoretical insights that built upon existing geological abstractions in order to accrue status and prestige as members of a professional scientific community. Perceived differ ences between these two types often accelerated and exacerbated contests for power and authority among them. They often dismissively caricatured and oversimplified each other and their methodologies as either too narrowly based on local environments or too theoretical, abstract, incomprehensible, and therefore impractical. The tension between the diverse array of prospectors and their methods propelled introduction 9 Buy the book

11 Finding Oil The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920 Copyrighted Material Brian Frehner and sometimes inhibited formulation of the fundamental tenets of petroleum geology and engineering, which the oil industry did not universally adopt until the second decade of the twentieth century. If the methods of different practitioners overlapped, how can we understand differences between them and the categories they used to describe themselves and their work? First, we must recognize that categories matter greatly to the people who create them. Categories people use to classify themselves, others, and the work performed by each originate from decisions to segment the world both spatially and temporally, to create a set of literal or metaphorical boxes in which they place their work and production of knowledge.13 We should take seriously the labels people create to identify themselves and their work, but we must also remember that each category either valorizes or silences a particular point of view.14 When people make choices, they exercise power. The choice to valorize or silence another histori cal actor means that categories reflect moral and ethical agendas.15 When a prospector called himself a practical man, he enshrined his knowledge, castigated geologists, and defined oil prospecting as work befitting only the male gender. Similarly, practitioners who labeled themselves geologists valorized their work as translocal knowledge that encompassed study of broadly defined earth processes and differ entiated themselves from prospectors, whom they considered merely provincial rather than practical. Regardless of how they labeled themselves or each other, a com mon desire to find oil often brought prospectors together even if their relationships did not always prove easy. People disagreed frequently about how to find oil, but they learned through a collective process that unfolded gradually and incrementally and through trial-and-error attempts. Human beings learn though experience even if they do not always succeed at their endeavors, but few learn in isolation or with out guidance from a parent, mentor, coworker, or friend. Observing an expert at work may also teach a young apprentice and impart a particular set of skills. What these methods have in common is the 10 introduction Buy the book

12 Finding Oil The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920 Copyrighted Material Brian Frehner idea that people are social creatures who learn in collectivities or in collaboration with one another. Learning collectively requires people to form relationships that allow them to share a repertoire of resources such as stories, tools, or techniques for accomplishing particular tasks.16 An ideal learning community consists of people who share a similar concern, passion, or practice for achieving a common goal.17 What distinguishes communities of individuals who teach one another from a mere interest group or social club is the need for members to function as practitioners, to perform an activity that requires time, attention, and sustained interaction with others who possess varying levels of expertise. Examples of such communities might include a tribe learning to subsist on a new resource base, musicians crafting new music, engineers fixing a bridge, or prospectors searching for oil. Finding oil was, in part, a social process that required interpersonal communication and relationship building. When people fail to communicate and cannot understand one another, their relationships suffer, and even harmonious communities fracture. To understand how people learned where to drill for oil, we must not romanticize prospectors as a community of practitioners whose members coexisted in solidarity, harmony, and consensus. Indeed, fractures occurred repeatedly among oil prospectors, and these breaks will reappear throughout this narrative because they reveal struggles for power and authority among people who had different understandings of how their work mediated their relationships with nature. Furthermore, these disagreements illuminate the contested nature of the knowledge that made up petroleum geology. The science and technology oil prospectors fashioned to find and produce oil grew out of contested relationships, decades in the making, in which prospec tors agreed and disagreed about their practices. These disagreements sometimes facilitated understanding of geological theories, but they also inhibited the formulation of these theories and prevented their acceptance by the industry. Innovation and efficiency in exploration occurred within the oil industry not necessarily by unanimity and introduction 11 Buy the book

13 Finding Oil The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920 Copyrighted Material Brian Frehner consensus but from hotly fought turf battles in which practitioners defended their intellectual and cultural terrain. Chapter 1 depicts some of these battles over the chronological scope of this study and argues that vernacular prospectors frequently established their authority as oil finders and often at the expense of geologists. Geologists worked in the oil industry throughout the late nine teenth century mostly as consultants and generated useful scientific knowledge, but their influence remained limited until the early twen tieth century.18 Their work on state geological surveys produced a unique blend of culture and nature that did not always translate into the most efficient knowledge for locating oil. Directors of geological surveys and their assistants gained valuable experience conducting field work in order to meet taxpayers demands for information lead ing to natural resources. Surveys were highly politicized undertakings when the knowledge scientists generated proved too arcane for layman to understand, but these surveys offered geologists opportunities to accrue authority and power over geological knowledge even if they did not always realize that goal. Chapter 2 explores how opportunities for scientific and professional authority precipitated conflicts during the nineteenth century between geologists who directed Pennsylvanias first and second geological surveys and the assistants they employed. Their disagreements did not always specifically involve oil but con cerned issues of professional authority and geological expertise. Ten sions flared over the question of who could properly claim credit for knowledge the survey generated assistants, who performed much of the field work, or its director, who assimilated the findings? Claims for authority led geologists to fight among themselves and denigrate practical mens prospecting theories. The most authoritative knowledge regarding petroleum geology resulted from collaborations initiated by geologist John F. Carll, who gathered factual data from practical mens drilling logs to construct a sound geological theory explaining how and where Pennsylvanias subsurface geology trapped oil. As demonstrated in chapter 3, practical men retained authority well into 12 introduction Buy the book

14 Finding Oil The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920 Copyrighted Material Brian Frehner the second decade of the twentieth century. Tom Slick, a practical oil man who headed west from Pennsylvania, discovered the immensely productive Cushing, Oklahoma, oil field even though he had no formal training as a geologist. Despite Slicks success, the authority he and other practical men accrued began to wane as the twentieth century dawned, and the oil frontier shifted to the southern plains. Geologists began to displace practical men as oil-finding authorities during the first two decades of the twentieth century by building insti tutional power within universities and surveys and using these forums for creating and controlling knowledge the oil industry wanted while simultaneously advancing their professional authority and prestige. Much of chapter 4 discusses how Charles N. Gould, although not the best oil prospector, accrued institutional power as a university geol ogy professor in Oklahoma and as director of the states geological survey. He also accessed power at the federal level by lobbying the United States Geological Survey for assistance in locating Oklahomas mineral resources. Petroleum geology began to coalesce as a formal discipline presided over by geologists who systematized their field work practices into methods for generating theories of oil accumu lation and documenting these theories with surface and subsurface maps. Collaboration still produced the most important geological knowledge, but the collaborators increasingly possessed university degrees, trained under the purview of public institutions, and accrued authority for knowing nature in ways private industry greatly valued. Private institutions in the form of large integrated oil companies increasingly recognized that geological expertise offered predictability in finding oil and began hiring geologists from universities and surveys for which they practiced the art and science of mapping the varied geological conditions that trapped oil. Probably more than any other single figure, Henry L. Doherty of Cities Service paved the way for the acceptance of geology in the oil industry. Chapter 5 shows that oil companies interest in geological exploration sprang from Dohertys efforts to fashion a context in which science, technology, and nature introduction 13 Buy the book

15 Finding Oil The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920 Copyrighted Material Brian Frehner interacted as a technological system. Dohertys bold decision to build a permanent research staff comprised of over two hundred geologists demonstrated that geology had its place within the integrated structure the oil industry had been building. Like transitional figures in other industries, Doherty bridged a gap in the oil business between the era of heroic independent invention in the late 1800s and the period of organized industrial research that coalesced in the early twentieth century.19 Although John D. Rockefeller had assembled an integrated oil company before Doherty entered the industry, Standard Oil focused its efforts on refining, transportation, and marketing and purchased the oil it acquired from large and small prospectors throughout the country. Doherty recognized that prospecting for oil and its extraction from the ground remained unsystematic, decentralized endeavors and moved to organize and rationalize these activities. This move meant hiring university-educated geologists and engineers whose knowledge seemed more tangible, predictable, and therefore reliable than the tacit and intuitive approach practical men employed with great suc cess. He committed more resources than any previous oil company to searching for oil through the application of geological principles. Other companies followed suit, and throughout the 1920s the industry located so much oil that overproduction, which had been a problem since Drakes well in 1859, returned with a vengeance. The central aim of this book, then, is to provide a historical context for different oil prospectors and to explain that the evolution and acceptance of petroleum geology within the oil industry grew out of relationships prospectors formed with each other and the natural environment. Work complicated the relationship between culture and nature but so too did interprofessional competition among different practitioners. Many scholars have written and theorized extensively on professionalization. They have seen the process as growing through a series of predetermined stages that represent either a positive story of knowledge as triumphant practice or a less sanguine narrative in which professionals behaved as servants of power working in the interests 14 introduction Buy the book

16 Finding Oil The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920 Copyrighted Material Brian Frehner of corporate monopolies. The best histories on professionalization view professionals self-definitions and their intellectual activity with skepticism and focus on the interstices between those who do and do not qualify as professional. This perspective casts professionalization as a study in the construction of cultural authority and power relations among different practitioners. By considering professionalization as the cultural negotiation of power, heretofore marginalized historical actors find their way into history as subjects who potentially wielded power in their own right.20 Professionalization was not a static process in which geological knowledge triumphed or in which geologists functioned solely as tools of monopolistic oil companies. Rather, the group of practitioners who labeled themselves geologists and coalesced as a distinct profession by 1920 disputed jurisdictional boundaries at the local and national levels. They did so by attempting to dominate outsiders, or practical men, whose prospecting methods they considered attacks on their control of knowledge. Petroleum geologys professionalization involved association formation, licensing, and development of ethics codes, but I argue that the real story was one of competition and contestation for control of knowledge and of nature. As one scholar put it, It is the history of jurisdictional disputes that is the real, the determining history of the professions.21 Elucidating the competition that took place among different practitioners explains why the organizational form of the oil industry evolved from practical participation in the nineteenth century to geological research departments staffed almost entirely with university-trained geologists by 1920. Science and technology play prominent roles in this story because they mediated both practical men and geologists relationships to nature. Historians attempting to understand modern science no longer believe they can trace universal concepts, theories, and practices back through time to their origin in a supposed Scientific Revolution.22 Over time humans have attempted to know nature in such a variety of ways that concepts familiar to modern science such as experiment, introduction 15 Buy the book

17 Finding Oil The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920 Copyrighted Material Brian Frehner observation, and objectivity acquired a unique historicity specific to time and place.23 Rather than a proscribed body of knowledge, science represented an accumulation of various practices situated in local environments in which training, socialization, and knowledge formation reflected the context of a given locality.24 Such was the case in Pennsylvania, where this story begins, and on the southern plains, where the story ends. Although California will appear at times in this narrative, the bulk of the story involving petroleum geologys relationship to private industry in that state constitutes another story for another time. Par ticularly before 1920, Californias geographical distance from the oil- rich southern plains region meant that the states oil industry grew in relative isolation, and while producers instituted geology, they accessed markets overseas by loading oil onto ships rather than send ing it overland through pipelines.25 Californias marketing of crude gave rise to a distinctive political economy in which state and local politics structured the oil industry in that time and place along with science and environment but making for a much different story than unfolded on the southern plains.26 State and local politics mattered to varying degrees in all oil-pro ducing states, but this monograph aims primarily to examine the contingency of science as producers migrated from Pennsylvania to the southern plains environment from 1859 to 1920. Science did not arrive as a monolithic entity in which development occurred inevitably and triumphantly on the basis of a single experimental method.27 Similarly, technology did not consist merely of material artifacts or utilitarian phenomena geared toward optimal efficiency but was a socially and culturally constructed tool shaped by a range of people, circumstances, and contexts.28 Neither science nor technology advanced in a simple linear fashion but intermixed and originated within discrete cultural and environmental contexts to mediate peoples relationships to nature in historically specific ways.29 If prospectors operated within a mlange of culturally constructed 16 introduction Buy the book

18 Finding Oil The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920 Copyrighted Material Brian Frehner nature, science, and technology, as this study argues, how can we identify and categorize the knowledge called petroleum geology that the oil industry embraced when alternatives frequently presented themselves? No single category offers an answer to that question. Rather, we must consider a range of both human and nonhuman actors as part of an ongoing and evolving network in which innovation occurred.30 In the southern plains environment there arose an actor- network consisting of people and their scientific and technological innovations that operated as a holistic system in which human and nonhuman actants defined one another based upon the nature of their exchanges and interrelationships.31 In short, nature and culture shaped one another. Sociologists and philosophers of science and technol ogy who originated theories of human/environmental interchange provided a useful conceptual framework that parallels the work of environmental historians who also strive to capture the complexities of how nature and culture interact. Prospectors who located and extracted oil offer case studies of how people understood nature through their labor, and the cultural creations that we sometimes label science and technology mediated their efforts. Differing geological configurations participated in the dialectics between humans and landscapes, challenged prospectors, and sometimes foiled their best efforts to dominate nature. Environ mental historians have long contended that we cannot understand human history without natural history and we cannot understand natural history without human history.32 At its core this book is a story about the intersection of human and natural history. A blasting gusher illustrates that intersection perfectly. Volumes of oil spewing hundreds of feet skyward struck some prospectors as nature in its purest form, yet if not for a human element the geology containing those gushers would never have been disturbed. introduction 17 Buy the book

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